NEB: Blitz the Huskers

Michael Mauti

Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide the ultimate preview for the Nittany Lions' big road trip to Lincoln. Get the lowdown on this contest and more in our weekly feature.

Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's matchup against the Huskers of Nebraska.

The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site which was a big part of the entities that united to create FightOnState.com back in 2004. Though the name of the site changed, we kept right on blitzing.

The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and — of course — provide their predictions. They also take an overview of the entire weekend in college football.

Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.

As an aside, in keeping up with the times, we are converting The Blitz from a pdf format to an online story.


KICKING OFF

ND: After a nice road win against Purdue, the Lions hit the road again to take on the Huskers of Nebraska. Nebraska came up big to knock off the Spartans thanks to a little help from the zebras. The Lions will have another tough challenge with another dynamic quarterback.

MH: It was a nice road win and one that should help Penn State to close out the season with some confidence. Yes, Nebraska is a tough customer and even tougher at home, so the Lions have to on for this one.


DIRTY DETAILS

Who: Penn State at #18 Nebraska

When: Saturday, November 10, 2012, 3:30 pm ET, 12:30 pm PT

Where: Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska

Series: Nebraska and Penn State are tied 7-7

TV: ABC/ESPN2

Line: Nebraska favored by 7pts.


OTHER BIG GAMES

ND: Already, some are projecting that the Oregon State Beavers are a favorite for the Rose Bowl, assuming that the Ducks are headed to the BCS title game. But, the Beavers need to get passed Stanford. Oregon State now travels to California for another tough road test. I think the physical style of play of Stanford is very similar to the style of play that the Huskies used to knock off the Beavers. I like the Cardinal to bump Oregon State right out of the top 25 this weekend.

MH: The SEC has another pretty big contest as No. 21 Mississippi State goes on the road against No. 7 LSU. LSU has had a tough road and it continues this week. MSU on the other hand has had a tough run also, but it trying to stop a two-game skid to get back in the SEC race.


UPSET SPECIAL

ND: Mark, I'm going way, way out on a limb here. Alabama played a nice game against LSU and came away with a big win on the road. That emotional win could create a bit of a let down this weekend. I'm gonna go with an extreme choice here by taking the Aggies of Texas A&M to knock off Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The Aggies played both LSU and Florida really close and Johnny Manziel is a remarkable dual-threat QB that nobody really knows. I don't have a ton of confidence in this pick but I would not be surprised if the Aggies pulled off a shocking upset this week.

MH: That is a bit call. However, I'm going out on a weaker limb and saying I feel TCU has a shot at knocking off No. 2 Kansas State. The Frogs are coming off a big overtime win against West Virginia on the road and get KSU at home. It's just a feeling…


PSU'S PLAYBOOK

ND: Offensively, I expect that Bill O'Brien is going to test the interior of the Nebraska line by running the ball. The Huskers are yielding 183.11 yards per game rushing, which is 87th in the nation. The ability to run the ball will only make the Lion play action scheme even more effective because it will trigger the Husker secondary and linebackers close to the line of scrimmage. Despite O'Brien's "day to day" designation of Kyle Carter, I don't expect to see the TE star out on the field. Instead, look for QB Matthew McGloin utilizing the trio of Gary Gilliam, Jesse James and Matt Lehman even more heavily this weekend than he did last weekend.

When the Huskers take the field, the Lions have a significant challenge on defense. QB Taylor Martinez is a very mobile QB. But, as much as people like to talk about Taylor Martinez or RB Ameer Abdullah, the real challenge for the defense is going to be how big and how mobile this Husker offensive line is. Again, despite the "day to day" label, I think the return of Jordan Hill in this game is doubtful. This is where guys like DaQuan Jones and James Terry have to come up big. The ability to get into the backfield for the Lions is hugely important. Meanwhile, the Husker wide receivers are all excellent, excellent blockers. Last week, Stephon Morris and Adrian Amos did a fantastic job of shedding blocks and making tackles. That same skill is going to be paramount in this game as not only will their support in stopping the rushing attack of the Huskers but Taylor Martinez also likes to throw the flanker/bubble screens to his big WRs.

MH: Nirav, I agree that I think we're going to see a nice dose of the ground game and expect Zach Zwinak to carry the bulk from the outset. That is not to say we won't see a good amount of passing, but I think O'Brien realizes he needs a pretty balanced attack to keep Nebraska's defense adjusting to keep up. I agree that McGloin will have to use his tight ends, but with the confidence boost Brandon Moseby-Felder got against the Boilermakers, he and Allen Robinson give the quarterback a lot of options through the air. The key remains to protect the ball and spread it around.

Defensively, the Lions are facing a smart, speedy quarterback in Martinez. He is behind an solid offensive line that can get out to the second level and open up big holes for the ground game. This makes in imperative for the Penn State interior to matchup and control the line of scrimmage. As you mentioned Martinez is mobile, but can also be dangerous with his arm if secondaries fall asleep on him, which he likes to have them do. The defensive backs have to be ready for some big disguised pass attempts.


SCOUTING THE OTHER SIDE

ND: QB Taylor Martinez is back for another year guiding the Husker offense. He continues to run the ball very effectively and is 10th in the conference in rushing. Along with RB Ameer Abdullah, the Huskers are averaging almost 270 yards per game rushing the ball. Martinez has, allegedly, drastically improved his throwing mechanics this season but I'm not really seeing it. He threw the ball well against weak competition but against teams with a pulse, he is still overthrowing receivers and throwing to the kids in the wrong jerseys. Martinez does have some really good receivers. Kenny Bell is a fast and tall receiver. Quincy Enunwa is a very big, physical WR and Kyler Reed is an excellent pass catching TE. The Huskers will throw the ball and not entirely rely on running the ball and Martinez's options are good ones.

On the other side of the ball, Nebraska has struggled stopping the run pretty much all season. They have improved in recent weeks because the secondary has become very engaged in stopping the run. Every member of the Husker secondary is big and physical. This will be the biggest group of backs that the Lion receivers have seen this season. Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a WR-converted-corner that knocks receivers off of their routes and who attacks the ball. The Linebackers are very, very average and outside of DE Eric Martin, the defensive line isn't awe-inspiring either. The defense does employ a very diverse blitzing scheme. They bring players from every direction and they get quite a bit of pressure on the opposing QB. They are averaging 2.67 sacks per game, which is 20th in the nation. Considering the issues that the Lions have had with offensive line adaption to the blitz, I expect the Huskers to attack McGloin from the first snap.

MH: Martinez is not an amazing passer, but he's dangerous enough to bait defenses into thinking run and hitting a wide open receiver with a ugly duckling. I think Nebraska's offensive staff realizes they have to mix it up on the PSU defense in order to mount some sustained drives. The fact Martinez has some solid targets makes it imperative that the corners mark up and play consistent out in the flat.

Given the focus on the run with the Husker defense, I expect O'Brien to come out working to establish the run to pull the secondary in. That should open things up a bit for McGloin and allow the receivers to find some space with their routes I do think they will toss a lot of pressure at McGloin and that will be a concern given how the offensive line struggled with that approach against Ohio State. The line has to make better reads on blitzes and McGloin has to make better reads and adjustments to his protection.


MATCHUP TO KICK BACK AND ENJOY

ND: DE Eric Martin is a terrific player that I think will create some real issues for the Nittany Lions. But, I am very interested to see how Donovan Smith performs against one of the better defensive ends in the conference. Smith has great feet and top-notch strength. But, we'll see how that matches up against the speed and agility of Martin.

MH: I think it's going to be interesting to see how Penn State's defensive front four handle Martinez and his line. This game is going to rely heavily on the trenches. Whoever gets the advantage there should have a significant edge in the overall contest.


KEYS TO THE GAME

ND: The ability to contain Taylor Martinez when he runs the ball will be the key to the game for the Lions. As he goes, so does the Huskers. Look for the Lions to keep a defensive player near the line of scrimmage and for the Lions to play more zone than we have seen previously as a way to prevent massive running lanes when Martinez decides to tuck the ball and take off.

MH: I just said it; trench warfare. If PSU can get pressure on the pocket and take Martinez out of his rhythm it could present some opportunities. However, he's at making adjustments and improvising, so they can't let off and the coaches have to get a spy on him. Paging Mr. Hodges.


PREDICTIONS

ND: The athleticism of the Husker offensive line and the explosiveness of Taylor Martinez running the football will allow Nebraska to take control in the second half of this game and pull away.

Nebraska 38, Penn State 28

MH: This is tough game for Penn State. Call me crazy, but I think O'Brien learned a lot against Ohio State and realizes he has to open up things to have a shot at the bigger teams. I suspect we'll see this. If PSU can contain Martinez I think they can pull off a victory.

Penn State 24, Nebraska 21


Until next time,

Fight On State!

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